Fluid Intelligence

Working memory and fluid intelligence

 - What is fluid intelligence?
 - Is IQ fixed or can it be improved with training?

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What is Fluid Intelligence?

How Working Memory Impacts Fluid Intelligence

While scientists have always argued that IQ is baked into our DNA at birth, new research is finding that certain aspects of intelligence are influenced by working memory, a cognitive skill that can in fact be changed with exercise. And so, by association, this research suggests IQ is not really fixed.

Signs of working memory problems

Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason quickly and to think abstractly.

  • Working memory is part of what defines fluid intelligence
  • Working memory skills are related to processing speed
  • Our programs target processing speed and working memory

Working memory is the ability to memorize new information, hold it in short-term memory, concentrate, and manipulate that information to produce some result or reasoning processes. It is important in higher-order thinking, learning, and achievement. It is also important for cognitive flexibility and planning ability, as well as learning and the ability to self-monitor.
Working memory definitions

Working memory is a temporary storage and workspace in the brain, "the blackboard of the mind" according to Just and Carpenter, that allows for processing of moment-to-moment information, archived information, and a link between them both before storing new knowledge in long-term-memory. It is linked to:

  • Arithmetic skill (think "carrying" a number in complex addition)
  • Reading ability (holding previous words in the sentence in memory while you sound out the next one)
  • Verbal fluency (considering the impact of your word choice before or while you speak a sentence)
  • Problem-solving and adapting (redirecting your workflow to pursue a different course if you are not succeeding, and speeding up or slowing down your work speed to finish on time)
  • Possibly ADHD (ability to integrate some past instructions with current stimuli deemed important, while ignoring other stimuli and information deemed unimportant)


Three Parts of Working Memory

Fluid intelligence phonological loop

1/ The "phonological loop" -- saying things in your head to hold them -- which serves an auditory processing and practicing function, tied to the speech centers of the brain and language development.

2/ The "visuospatial sketchpad" or a visual analysis and processing part that serves as an internal laboratory for visualizing problems and solutions. Einstein's Theory of Relativity was largely developed in his head with complicated visualizations.

3/ The "central executive" that controls these two parts, delegating work to them and receiving their analysis back in order to facilitate coordinated reasoning, comprehension, learning, and decision making, sometimes allowing rote habit to direct us while it works on other things.

About 50% of the growth in fluid intelligence from age 7-19 is associated with working memory, and 75% of that is associated with processing speed development.


Working Memory and Intelligence

Processing speed in part determines how long it takes information to be called up from long-term memory. On the one hand, slowed processing speed can mean information already in working memory deteriorates while it waits for information from long-term memory to arrive.

On the other hand, faster processing (quickly matching shapes, recalling memorized information like your times tables, letter and number recognition, and sequencing skills) can mean more economical processing, and that working memory (and the skills that draw upon it like reading and math) is more effective.

Improvements in processing speed support gains in working memory, which support developments in fluid intelligence, although this is not a simple step-wise process.

Fast ForWord
Gemm Learning uses Fast ForWord to improve working memory and related processing speed and accuracy skills. The idea that gains in working memory will impact IQ has been confirmed in some longer term studies of Fast ForWord over a period of years where progress has been measured through annual IQ tests.
How Fast ForWord can lift IQ scores